Monday, January 19, 2009

GUARDIANS OF THE SKIRRID-St Teilo at Llandeilo Bertholau


St Teilo in the Burning Bush

In the north of Monmouthshire lies the Skirryd or the Holy Mountain, and on top of this is a ruin of the church of St Michael. The local belief is that at the time of the Crucifixion,the Archangel Michael brought down his flaming sword on the mountain and split it in two. St Michael is an Archangel and so many mountain areas are dedicated to him in the hope he would protect all the lands around it.

In the case of the Skirryd, it was holy when St David was in his cell, in the area of Llanthony (no Priory yet)It was holy when the blessed St Issui (Esau) was martyred at Pater-Ishow. The early British (in Monmouthshire before the Saxons came)definately reagrded it as holy, and built a fortress of llans or monastic settlements around the mountain, dedicated to Welsh and universal saints.

Llanfihangel Crucorney-- St Michael on the Cranes Island
Llangattock Lingoed The holy place of Cadoc in the trees.
Llanvetherine The holy place of Guithyryn (Vortigern's burial place)
Llanthewy Skirryd The holy place of David on the Skirrid
Llandeilo(Llantilio)Pertholey The holy place of St Teilo by the Burning Bush.

Fred Hando writes in 'Out ad About in Gwent'Our holy mountain, the Skirrid is surrounded by five ancient Churches....(listed above)....Looking from the summit, they appear as outposts to a citadel ;one could imagine the patrons, Michael,Cadoc, James, David and Teilo erecting a ring of prayer around the Skirrid , itself dedicated to St Michael.

St Teilo's Church, Llantilio Pertholey, is a beautiful sanctuary which is about a mile north of Abergavenny. The Skirrid towers above, landslide and ravine very clear from the road , where a by road leads to the church, the Mitre Inn and Maindiff Court on the Abergavenny to Ross road.'(The presence of the Mitre Inn is obviously a tribute to the ishop, St Teilo as the Mitre is a pointy kind of headwear only worn by bishops. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and the mitre is a symbol of the flames the holy spirit formed around their heads at Pentecost or Whitsun (White Sunday).

There have been many rebuildings and restorations, but you can see the ancient nature of the church.

My First Visit

I visited last Friday and was disappointed to find the church building closed. This church was built as it is with a Norman style embattled tower, with the famiiar circular churchyard, seen in the outdoor photographs. There are many ancient tombstones, many of them Catholic with IHS on them. It thought I would comment first of all on the exterior elements of the settlement. The circle is complete. A few weeks ago, I visited Llantilio Crossenny (also within view of the Skirryd) and we remember the incident recorded in the Book of Llandaff of how Teilo, when Saxons were once again attacking Gwent, received an appeal from the people for a powerful prayer of protection. Teilo (for a biograhy look at last Spring's posts) and his monks climbed to the top of the Skirrid and entreated the Archangel Michael to pray with him to God to protect his children in Gwent. King Meurig was successful in driving out the Saxon menace and so God heard the prayers. Teilo was an early Bishop of Llandaff and Uncle of Ouddoceus (Docco)and it was believed he often resided near the Skirrid and at Llantilio Crossenny and even when rebuilt in Norman and Subsequent times, remained important.

St Michael the Archangel and the Skirrid remained very important in post reformation times as most in this area defied the authorities, their fines and persecutions to remain true to the Old Faith of the Apostles.The English prayer book, unintelligible to the Welsh Speaking people remained a puzzle to the locals who clung to their rosaries and their covert priests and many climbed the Skirrid secretly to attend Mass celebrated by the heroic priests of the time. There are tales of a martyred priest at Rockfield and another called Aynsley or Ainsworth in Elizabethan times at Skenfrith (now known as the Priest's Well in Darren Wood) and Bishop Matthew Pritchard, the Franciscan and other friars made many secret pilgrimages to the spring near where Father Aynsley was martyred.Father David Lewis, Father John Kemble of Welsh Newton, Father Philip Evans and John Roerts , all local men, sons of local people, all were brutally hung drawn and quartered because of the lies of Titus Oates and widespread anti-catholic prejudice fanned by the recipients of church lands stolen in the 1530's. The Arnolds of Llanfihangel Court had a picture on their walls(described by Fred Hando' in 'Journeys in Gwent' shows Catholics climbing up the Skirrid (as they still do today on Good Friday and on Michaelmas (St Michael's Day (September)for their secret Masses and Rosaries. I will write more than this when we reach the chronological time).All the priests above were canonised in the twentieth century.

So St Michael and the Skirrid have been very powerful in Catholic history in Gwent. So St Teilo remains a patron of Llantio Pertholey (Llandeilo Bertholau)Church, now in Anglican tradition with a primary school attached.

I have to confine my report to exterior features at present and as I say the churchyard is circular and a small spring and stream runs almost all around the settlement. There are lovely trees around and Hando's Mitre Inn seems not to be in evidence there. There is a large Church car park. The Lych gate is ancient (Lych meaning Saxon 'Lyke German Leiche or 'Corpse') where the mourners would rest the coffin on a bier and the bearers have a rest efore takng the coffin into church. On the right hand side are many small memorials where ashes have been buried. Approaching the church, there are graves with Catholic inscriptions, and I have photographed some examples of this as well. The one which caught my eye was actually a representation of the crowning of Our Lady , the relief of Mary holding the Christ Child. The relief is very overgrown with mould and fungae, and the photo is not as clear as the real life monuments.I will go back later to investigate the interior of the church, which originally would have carried a relic of St Teilo in its altar, but at this point I am not sure it is the original altar.

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